Even with coronavirus vaccines now rolling out around the world, it seems that the days of working from home are going to continue for the foreseeable future. In many cases, companies and organizations which were reluctantly pushed to embrace remote working capabilities during COVID-19 have realized that these come with certain advantages — including, long-term, the opportunity to lower expensive office rental costs by not requiring the entire workforce to be present in the office at the same time.
Many workers have embraced working from home, too; no longer necessitating them to commute to and from work every day in order to get their job done. At present, an estimated one in three workers in the United States are working exclusively at home. Similar numbers are seen in many other countries.
Unfortunately, cyber attackers have also wasted no time in coming up with ways to take advantage of the various accompanying remote working. For those without the right cyber security platform, remote working technologies can be abused to allow new kinds of attack to take place — with potentially devastating results.
New kinds of cyber attack
One of the big trends during COVID-19 working from home has been an uptick in instances of phishing-related cyber attacks. Attackers have seized on the working from home trend with phishing strategies that prey on the “new normal” by, for instance, sending emails that appear to be from office IT service departments requesting users to click links to reset their log-in passwords.
Even more daring are messages purporting to be from senior staff, such as chief executives, asking employees to initiate rapid money transfers. Since people are working remotely in an unprecedented situation, workers may not immediately recognize these as fraud since they are already having to adapt on multiple fronts to new workplace practices.
Challenges of working from home
Home-working makes it tougher for businesses or organizations to monitor what staff may be doing. However, the fact that remote access allows employees to log-in to workplace systems means that just one or two people falling for a phishing message could compromise an entire network or computer system. In the event that attackers are able to fraudulently gain foothold in a system, they may then be able to elevate their privilege levels to administrator, move laterally throughout the system, and cause damage through vandalism or by exfiltrating sensitive data.
A survey by a UK-based solicitors firm underlined how ill-prepared many organizations have been to deal with the cyber security aspect of working from home. Among its findings were the fact that two out of three companies have not got adequate password protection or encryption practices in place — while one in every five employees said they had received no data protection guidelines or training on the subject of cyber security. While companies may not wish to overwhelm already stretched employees with a crash course in areas like data handling, these are vitally important areas that companies and organizations cannot simply ignore.
Another recent survey suggested that 85% of chief information security officers (CISOs) said that they had made sacrifices in the area of cybersecurity so as to make it easier for employees to carry out remote working. At the same time, 63% of respondents acknowledged that they had seen an increased number of cyber attacks.
A strategy to protect against attacks
There is no one-stop-shop fix when it comes to putting preventative steps in place. It must be a multi-pronged strategy that includes regular training for staff about how to respond to suspicious links or requests, limiting user access through privileged access management tools so as to make it harder for breaches to spread through an entire system, and increasing the usage of security measures like multi-factor authentication and strong encryption.
This latter point means that, even if attackers are able to steal a password or exfiltrate data, they will not be able to use it in a meaningful manner. Wherever possible, companies and organizations should ensure that their systems are kept updated, so as to protect against discovered vulnerabilities which have subsequently been patched.
It is also vital that you employ the right tools to protect you. Cyber security tools include the likes of Data Loss Prevention (DLP) systems, Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP), Web Application Firewalls (WAF), advanced bot protection, and more. These can be used to — among other things — identify potential attacks and quickly respond by blocking them and alerting the right people.
Cyber attackers targeting employees working from home isn’t likely to change any time soon. If the “new normal” of home working really does become standard in the years to come — even after the end of coronavirus — these threats will only ramp up. However, by acting quickly and decisively would-be targets can protect themselves, their employees, and their customers.